Tue, Sep 13, 2016 - Page 6 News List

Ahead of truce, al-Assad vows to retake all of Syria

LAST-MINUTE HICCUPS?The Syrian president’s hardline message came as he made a rare public appearance. Opposition forces are also demanding more guarantees

AFP, DAMASCUS

A handout photograph from the Syrian Arab News Agency shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, center left, walking in the city of Daraya after attending Eid al-Adha prayers at Saad Ibn Muaz Mosque yesterday.

Photo: EPA / Syrian Arab News Agency

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad yesterday vowed to retake all of Syria from “terrorists,” hours before a truce brokered by Russia and the US was due to take hold.

Speaking in Daraya, a former rebel stronghold recently surrendered to the government, al-Assad said “the Syrian state is determined to recover every area from the terrorists,” state media reported.

“The armed forces are continuing their work, relentlessly and without hesitation, regardless of internal or external circumstances,” he said.

Al-Assad made a rare public appearance to celebrate the Eid al-Adha holiday in Daraya, where state media showed him attending prayers at the Saad Bin Moaz mosque.

After years of government siege and fighting, its remaining residents and rebel fighters evacuated the town late last month under a deal with the regime, which has since retaken control.

“After five years, some people still haven’t woken up from their fantasies,” al-Assad said, referring to the anti-government protests that erupted in 2011. “Some were betting on promises from foreign powers, which will result in nothing.”

Al-Assad was joined at the prayers by a number of members of his ruling Baath party, as well as several ministers and members of parliament.

The mufti, or cleric, presiding over the prayers, hailed Daraya as an example for Syria.

“Daraya is living proof for all Syrians that the only option available to you is reconciliation and abandoning fighting,” said Adnan al-Afiyuni, mufti for Damascus Province.

Rebel fighters said they had been forced to agree the deal with the government after the siege created a humanitarian crisis for Daraya’s remaining residents, but the government has touted the deal, and other similar agreements, as the best way to achieve local ceasefires and end the violence.

With the internationally brokered ceasefire due to begin at sundown, the country’s opposition forces had yet to sign on.

The deal, announced on Friday after marathon talks between Russia and the US, has been billed as the best chance yet to halt the bloodshed in Syria’s five-year civil war.

Under the deal, an initial 48-hour ceasefire was to begin at 7pm, halting fighting in areas not held by militants such as the Islamic State group.

Aid deliveries to the country’s many besieged and “hard-to-reach” areas are set to simultaneously begin, with government and rebel forces ensuring unimpeded humanitarian access in particular to the divided and devastated city of Aleppo.

If the ceasefire then holds for a week, Moscow and Washington are to begin unprecedented joint targeting of militant forces.

Syria’s opposition is deeply skeptical that al-Assad’s regime will abide by the agreement and yesterday they demanded further guarantees before endorsing the deal.

“We want to know what the guarantees are,” said Salem al-Muslet, a spokesman for the High Negotiations Committee, the main opposition umbrella group. “We are asking for guarantees especially from the United States, which is a party to the agreement.”

He said key questions included how the deal would define “terrorist” groups that can continue to be targeted and what the response would be to violations of the truce.

“We fear that Russia will classify all the Free Syrian Army [rebel factions] as terrorists,” he said.

Questions also remain about how the ceasefire will apply in several parts of the country where the Fateh al-Sham Front, previously known as al-Nusra Front, is present.

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